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  • Business Leaders Helping to Make Cities Great

    Published on Monday, November 5, 2012

    During my travels in October I participated in a number of conferences and provided a few presentations to private companies and for associations. While all of my work was interesting I had two experiences that affirmed the powerful positive role that business leaders can play in rebuilding and strengthening communities and civic life.

    At the Conscious Capitalism CEO Summit held in Austin TX in early October I met the folks behind the Downtown Project, a stunning effort to revitalize downtown Las Vegas NV. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos (one of the 100 Best Companies) presented a detailed overview of all that has gone into the design and development of this project. Yet more importantly from my perspective he talked about why he has taken this project on.

    Hsieh, along with Jenn Lim and James Key Lim of Delivering Happiness, launched the Downtown Project with a commitment to creatively influence the trajectory of downtown Las Vegas – a city hit hard by the economic woes facing many parts of the U.S. A couple of well-written articles can tell you what they are doing.  I learned about why they are doing this from Tony’s presentation and my conversations with Tony, Jenn and James during the conference.

    These people are thinking big and small at the same time. The big thought is evident in the scope of the Downtown Project – a 350 million dollar investment in residential development, small businesses, education and tech startups. The goal is to change the landscape of downtown Las Vegas within 5 years, making it an attractive place for the arts, education, businesses, individuals and families.

    The small thought has to do with the reasoning behind what’s big. Actually it's not really a small thought at all, just a bit more subtle than the big, visible changes happening in Las Vegas. Hsieh wants to create opportunities for connections to occur throughout the downtown area. His belief is that the more people are able to interact with each other in positive and enjoyable settings, the more they will learn and share, creating knowledge and experiences that improve the quality of life for everyone. And when this happens, a city is remade.

    After my time in Austin, I went to Tijuana Mexico, at the invitation of a group called Tijuana Innovadora. TI is a volunteer group of civic-minded people from Tijuana and San Diego seeking to inspire and motivate community members to value all that is positive in Tijuana, as well as create an energetic commitment on the part of business leaders to invest in the growth of Tijuana’s business community.

    The cornerstone event of Tijuana Innovadora is a biennial week-long conference, including presentations and workshops by people from all over the world, as well as an exposition featuring businesses and organizations with facilities in the Tijuana region. High school and college students are able to volunteer at the conference and attend the events, families come to see what is happening in their city and businesses set up elaborate displays to showcase their activities in the region. It was a wonderful, inspiring event.

    Prior to my presentation at TI, I was able to visit the Plantronics facility in Tijuana. Plantronics is the #1 Best Workplace in Mexico in it's size category, and after my visit I can see why. Their expansive facility includes design, manufacturing and distribution areas, with over 2300 people employed there. I learned of the many programs offered to employees and their families that benefit them directly yet also make Tijuana a better place for people to live and work. Education and cultural programs are offered and numerous community service projects help spread benefits throughout Tijuana.

    The organizers of Tijuana Innovadora want to insure that lots of people know about Plantronics success in their city, and Plantronics wants to provide support to its employees, their families, and the broader community to help make Tijuana a great place for people to live and work.

    Each of these programs is taking a slightly different approach, yet with the same goal. Las Vegas Nevada and Tijuana Mexico are both cities with tremendous natural assets, and people within their communities that want to see their home city become great again. And in both places, business leaders are actively involved in facilitating civic involvement for the benefit of everyone, providing powerful examples to follow.

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